Nationally, catalytic converter thefts are increasing, and Evansville is no exception. Sheriff Dave Wedding would like Vanderburgh County residents to be aware of this trend, and to know how to reduce the chance of being victimized.

Since 1975 all vehicles sold in the United States must have a catalytic converter installed. Catalytic converters (often shortened to just “cats”) work by using metallic catalysts to convert the harmful compounds from an engine’s emissions into safe gases that don’t harm the environment. Catalytic converters are expensive and can fetch hundreds of dollars from a scrap yard. Trucks and vans with higher ground clearance give thieves more room to work and make for tempting targets.

Lt. Noah Robinson explained, “Cat thefts really saw an increase when two factors collided. The price of the precious metals (like rhodium, palladium and lithium) used in cats reached all-time highs… and inexpensive, portable, yet powerful handheld reciprocating saws became readily available.”

Throughout the United States, catalytic converter thefts have increased ten-fold in the last couple of years. An original equipment replacement catalytic converter can cost as much as $4,000 on certain vehicles (although aftermarket replacements are substantially cheaper). Auto dealerships, repair facilities, and fleet parking lots are often targeted due to a lower risk of being observed. Thieves will look for trucks parked near one another or in an area with low light. A practiced thief with the right tool and a sharp blade can be gone in less than 30 seconds.

The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a catalytic converter theft that recently occurred at an automotive related business off N. Saint Joseph Ave. The Evansville Police Department is also investigating a rash of catalytic converter thefts, 13 of which have been reported since March of this year.

A quick internet search will reveal a range of options for discouraging catalytic converter theft. Steel shields or cages that fit over the catalytic converter can make removal difficult without sufficient time and tools (which a thief may not have). Alternatively, stainless steel cables can be welded from the catalytic converter to the vehicle.

Lt. Noah Robinson explained, “These solutions may not be practical or cost effective for smaller vehicles, but could make sense for full-size trucks and that are frequent targets. The cheapest deterrent is a motion-activated light near where the vehicle is parked.”

The state legislature has taken action to make the resale of used catalytic converters more tightly regulated. Effective July 1st, only licensed automobile salvage recyclers will be permitted to buy or sell used catalytic converters. Salvage recyclers who accept catalytic converters will now be required to keep the same records for catalytic converters as do valuable metal dealers, cap payouts at $25 per transaction per day, and must now be licensed with the secretary of state’s auto dealer services division.

If you have been victimized by a cat thief, the first sign of trouble will likely occur when you start your car. Since a catalytic converter is typically located near the center of a vehicle, your engine will sound very loud as none of the exhaust will be flowing through the muffler.

Sheriff Dave Wedding added, “Once you have determined that your catalytic converter has been stolen, call 911 and a deputy or officer will respond to investigate.”